February 4, 2013

What's that, you say?  What looks like an abstract work of art is actually an image of biomineral crystals within a sea urchin's tooth. The photo took the top spot in photography at the International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge. [Biomineral Single Crystals. Pupa U.P.A. Gilbert and Christopher E. Killian]

Each color highlights a continuous single crystal of calcite (CaCO3) made by the sea urchin Arbacia punctulata at the forming end of one of its teeth. Together, these biomineral crystals fill space, harden the tooth, and toughen it enough to grind rock.

The pair captured the shot using scanning electron microscopy, although Gilbert admits the palette choice is somewhat arbitrary. "The artist in me selected the colors. I picked them because I like the way they look," says Gilbert. "But the scientist in me absolutely rigourously respects the information that is in there. I didn't do anything in Photoshop to alter the morphology," she adds.

Originally posted on Science Friday

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